Blah blah rambly blah

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:10 am

Does anybody have any great ideas to cure the mid-winter ennui?  It seems like I usually have a spring trip in the planning stages, but this year I’m not going anywhere until June.  And late June, at that.  And it doesn’t even require a passport.  Denny teases me by saying I don’t think it counts as a vacation unless it’s to Europe or the Caribbean, but he’s kind of right.  On the other hand, Haiti is in the Caribbean, and nobody wants to be there these days (except the humanitarian workers who have great amounts of my respect and admiration).

I am excited about the trip to the San Francisco Bay Area (with a side trip to Monterey) in June, and it does meet my criterion of air travel, but it’s so distant.

We have tentative plans to go to our favorite restaurant, the Lincoln Café, tonight—check out their new website.  It has what I’ve always wanted their website to have, which is an up-to-date listing of their specials.  It’s a bring-your-own wine kind of place, and knowing what you’re going to eat really helps in the wine selection process.  Denny had a cough last night, so I hope he feels up to the trip.  I could really use an adventure, even a low-scale one.

I have this sweater dress that is just borderline too hoochie for work, and I want to wear it.  It’s not revealing or anything, just attention-grabbing beyond the typical business casual.  It’s the kind of thing Dr. Cam Saroyan would wear on the show Bones.  How does she get away with being the boss of a forensics lab and wear such hot clothes?


Galette des rois

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:40 am

I start thinking about my birthday cake months in advance.  Winter begins birthday season at our house—Miles’ is in January (supposed to be February, but in a way it’s kind of nice to spread out the celebrations a little), my mom’s and brother’s are in February, and Denny’s and mine are in March.  There are more as the spring continues in the extended family.  That’s a lot of cake in a short timeframe.

Making cakes is fun.  I don’t generally make a cake for people outside the “little family,” or as Miles calls it, “Mommy-Daddy-Mi.”  I’d be happy to if they asked or the opportunity arose, but it’s not part of our current set of traditions.  I look forward to making and sharing my own birthday cake and don’t find it depressing at all.  Sometimes people are shocked by this, and a while back, I mentioned making my own cake and bringing it to share with coworkers.   Someone in my sphere found the idea horrifying, and she insisted that she would bring a cake for me.

It was one of those things where I had to act like I was really appreciative—and I was appreciative of the gesture, because it obviously came from a place of generosity and kindness—but the fact is, I was psyched to make the cake.  And I couldn’t exactly say no, you know?  She asked me what my favorite kinds of cake were, and I told her, and then she brought something totally different.  It was fine.  I’m not picky at all, and I will eat just about any cake, but it was all kind of a let-down.

This year, I will not be thwarted.  I saw this recipe today, and while it’s not a cake technically speaking, I think it will be my special birthday treat.  Besides, after a cake for Miles (vanilla with orange cream filling and chocolate frosting) and Denny (carrot with cream cheese frosting), I might be ready for something else.

From Chocolate and Zucchini.

Galette des rois (Tart of Kings) — Original post has helpful photos

– 500 grams (17 2/3 ounces) all-butter puff pastry, thawed if frozen

For the crème d’amande:
– 125 grams (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
– 125 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar (I used a blond unrefined cane sugar)
– 110 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) almond meal (= finely ground almonds*)
– 20 grams (2 tablespoons) hazelnut flour or finely ground hazelnuts** (optional; you can also use all almond meal as in the classic galette)
– 8 grams (1 tablespoon) corn starch (in France, this is known under the brand name Maïzena)
– a good pinch sea salt
– 2 eggs
– 1 drop almond extract (optional)
– 1 tablespoon orange flower water or a liquor of your choice, such as Grand Marnier or rum

For the eggwash and glaze:
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

– 1 porcelain trinket or dried bean
– 2 paper crowns

Serves 6 to 8.

1. Prepare the crème d’amande.

Beat the butter until creamy, but avoid incorporating air into it. In a bowl, combine the sugar, almonds, hazelnuts, corn starch, and salt. Stir with a whisk to remove any lump. Add to the creamed butter and mix until smooth. Add the almond extract and orange flower water, then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.

2. Roll out the puff pastry.

Divide the puff pastry in 2 equal pieces, and roll each one out to form a rough circle a little larger than 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter. Use a sharp knife and an upturned plate of the right dimension to cut a neat 30-cm (12-inch) circle out of one, and a slightly larger one with the other, adding, say, 6 mm (1/4 inch) all around the edge of the plate.

3. Assemble the galette.

Place the smaller of the two circles on a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk with a tablespoon water (or milk, if you have it handy) until smooth. Using a pastry brush, brush the outer rim of the dough lightly with the eggwash by a width of about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Make sure not to wet the actual edge of the dough, or it will impede its rise.

Pour the crème d’amande in the center and spread it out inside the eggwash ring with a spatula.

Place a porcelain fève, a dried bean, or the trinket of your choice in the crème d’amande — not in the center but closer to an edge, or your knife will keep running into it when you divide the galette. And if it is an elongated shape, make sure to orient it straight toward the center of the galette, again, to minimize the possibility of you hitting it with your knife (as you see in the picture below, mine was not, and sure enough, I cut right into the top of the little tower). Press it down gently to bury it.

Transfer the second round of dough precisely on top of the first, smooth it out gently over the crème d’amande to remove any air pocket, and press it down all around the sides to seal.

4. Score the galette.

Using the back of the tip of your knife (i.e. the dull side), draw a decorative pattern on top of the galette: a diamond-shaped grid, optionally with double or triple lines, a flower pattern… see examples here, here, here and here.

I chose to make a sun pattern as demonstrated in this video: you start from the center and draw an arc to reach the edge of the galette in a single, smooth gesture, exercising just enough pressure to score the dough without piercing it. You then turn the galette ever so slightly, draw a similar arc nested in the first one, and repeat until the entire galette is scored.

Holding your knife upright, blade down, and using the dull side of the blade, push the dough inward where each sun ray ends, to create a festooned pattern.

Brush the top of the galette lightly with the eggwash: again, make sure it doesn’t drip over the edges, or the eggwash will seal the layers of the puff pastry in this spot and it won’t develop as well. Let it rest a minute then brush it lightly again with the eggwash. (As you can see on the picture below, my eggwash pooled a bit around the bulge of the crème d’amande, which resulted in a darker coloring around the sides; I didn’t mind, but I’ll be more careful next time.)

Using the tip of your knife, pierce 5 holes in the top dough — one in the center, and four around the sides, piercing through the pattern you’ve drawn — to ensure an even rise.

Transfer to a baking sheet or a tart pan with a removable bottom, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Alternatively, you can place the galette in the freezer at this point, on the baking sheet or pan, and bake it the next day. Although I haven’t tried it, I’m sure you could prepare it up to a week or so in advance: once the galette is thoroughly frozen, transfer it to a tightly sealed bag to avoid freezer burn.)

5. Bake the galette.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F); if the galette was in the freezer, take it out while the oven preheats. Insert the galette in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes (35 if it was frozen), until puffy and golden brown.

In the final minutes of baking, combine the tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar with a tablespoon very hot water (heated until boiling in the kettle or the microwave). When the galette is done, remove it from the oven, brush it across the top with the sryup, and return it to the oven for a minute; this will give it a shiny finish.

Place on a rack to cool completely (it will settle as it cools) and serve at room temperature. (Some people prefer it slightly warm, so they reheat it slightly in a warm oven before serving.) The traditional pairing is with Champagne or hard cider.

Have one of the guests (usually the youngest) hide under the table if he’s willing, or at least cover his eyes or turn his back to the table. Cut the galette into servings and, for each serving, have the guest decide who should have it. If your guests are unfamiliar with the tradition, make sure you warn everyone that a fève may be hiding in their slice. Whoever finds it is king/queen for the day, receives a paper crown, and gets to pick his/her queen/king (or king/queen for that matter) by giving her/him the second paper crown.

* I normally mention that you can also grind your own almonds, but here it is worth seeking out almond meal (you’ll find it at natural food stores and Middle-Eastern markets): it is a lot more finely ground than what you could achieve at home, and this will make the crème d’amande incomparably smooth.

** Read more about the hazelnut flour I used. Alternatively, you can grind the hazelnuts yourself if you prefer: place 20 grams (3 tablespoons) shelled hazelnuts in a blender with 2 tablespoons of the sugar used in the crème d’amande, and pulse until finely ground.



Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:08 am

Miles’ 2nd birthday, the immediate family celebration.


Monthly Miles Memo #24

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:42 am

Two.  2.  Dos.  Deux.  Mon dieu.

Moey at-ah plee.

That’s that phrase that woke your dad up yesterday morning.  I was getting ready for work, and your dad was hoping you’d sleep in on this Daddy-Miles day.  No such luck.  Moey at-ah plee.  Moey at-ah plee.

That means “More water, please,” and it has nothing to do with thirst.  We’ve been getting a little stir-crazy on these cold afternoons when we’re stuck at home.  I try to limit both the quantity and inanity of the YouTube videos you’re allowed to watch, which you would do all day if I let you, so I came up with the idea of turning on the bathroom faucet, just a trickle, and letting you play with it.

Now it’s your new obsession.  It wouldn’t be so bad if you were content with just that, but no—you want your supervisor to fill a cup, then you want to carry the cup and dump it into the bathtub, which means you need to put the cup down and get help to descend from your stepstool.  Then you dump the cup, then climb back up to the sink, then demand that the supervisor refill the cup.  I’m not sure why a grownup has to do that part, since you can reach, but you are quite sure that cup-filling is not your job.

Then you want the water on stronger, which we’ll let you do for a moment, but when we can no longer stomach the wastefulness and turn the water back down, you are not so happy.

It’s been a month of mood swings.  Life is either tragic or euphoric for you right now.  When we got our Christmas tree, you ran up and down the hall about thirty times, yelling “Yay!  Yay!  Yay!”  When you saw the dining room all decorated for your birthday this morning, with streamers and balloons and the number 2 formed out of sparkly pipecleaners, you let out a low but truly impressed-sounding “Wow.

You are developing a sense of humor.  You get a kick out of calling everyone Uncle [name], including Uncle Mommy, Uncle Daddy, Uncle Bean, and Uncle Mubby.  When you get an owie and I ask you where you need a kiss, you usually start with the knees, then the head, and then it could be anywhere.  Sometimes you need a kiss on the eyeball.  Sometimes you need a kiss on the Christmas tree.  Yesterday you told me I needed to kiss my own nose, and I when I failed, you kissed my nose for me.

Last week I completed an application for a highly sought-after local preschool.  You’re nowhere near ready for preschool, at least if they have a potty-training requirement, but there’s a waiting list.  The application was extensive.  I had to write about your academic strengths and weaknesses, your personality, what we would do to contribute to the school’s emphasis on diversity, and how you handle frustration.  For that last one, I wrote “Yelling.”  It seemed like that was kind of the wrong answer, like I should say that you retreat to your Unhappy Chair and do some quiet yoga until you feel better.  But, seriously, you’re two.  You yell.  You are almost never physically aggressive, which is mostly good, though it leads to you getting bowled over by more assertive children and curious puppies.

Two years ago today, I met a tiny boy, too new for the world, but strong and tenacious.  Your eyes were swollen shut, so you couldn’t see my face, but I didn’t worry about that too much since you had never seen me anyway.  We talked and sang to you a lot, the same songs we sang to you in utero, and you really seemed to recognize them.  I don’t know if those early experiences with singing and music shaped your current personality or if it’s just a coincidence, but you are absolutely crazy about music these days.  You always want to listen to the iPod or hear your dad and me sing, and you dance with great enthusiasm.  You recognize tempo and mood changes, and during a slow bridge, you close your eyes and sway like Stevie Wonder, singing “Oooooh” with the backing vocalists.

When I met that pickly, jaundiced, swollen-eyed version of you, I imagined the person you’d become.  I don’t remember any specifics, and honestly I don’t have any dreams for you besides general personal fulfillment.  I just tried to picture you as a one-year-old, a two-year-old, a ten-year-old, a seventeen-year-old, a thirty-year-old.  I’m sure I was completely wrong in a lot of ways, but you still have my mouth and your daddy’s eyes (which we discovered once the swelling went down).  You have a lot of my facial expressions, and I’m pretty sure your tendencies toward anal retention come from your father.  An ajar cabinet door is anathema to you.

You’ve been in a huge Mommy phase for the last few months.  It kind of hurts your dad’s feelings, I think, because at certain moments, there’s just nothing he can do to make you happy.  It wears me out sometimes too, when all I want to do is make dinner, and you freak out because you can’t be in my arms every single second.  It’s tiring.  You’re heavy.  The stove is hot.  The kitchen is not the place for little kids.

But…I have to admit there’s something heart-exploding about it.  When you say Mommy, and you run to my arms and bury your head in my shoulder, and suddenly everything is okay in your world, and I was the one who could make it okay just by holding you—I know I’m going to look back on these days and I wish I could always solve your problems so easily.

Today, our problems are few.  You’re healthy, save for a runny nose.  The weather is cold, but our house is warm.  You are smart—the preschool application offered a box to check labeled “Exceptionally bright.”  Yeah, I checked it.  I’m guessing pretty much everybody in the Willowwind Parents demographic checks it, but what am I going to do, sell you short?

You’re not really that short.  You’re almost three feet tall.

I love you more than than a thousand people typing a thousand words per minute on a thousand keyboards could write, even if the only words they were writing were “I love you.”

Happy birthday.  And many more.





Black bean soup

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:59 am

Vegetarian (even vegan, I think) Black Bean Soup

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1.5 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
2 15-ounce cans black beans, undrained
hot sauce to taste
juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime

Combine first 7 ingredients in a Crock Pot, plus half a can of beans.  Cook on low for, you know, whatever (a few hours, probably even a whole workday would be okay).   Using an immersion blender if you have one, or transferring the contents into a blender if you don’t, puree the cooked contents.  It’s okay if it’s not 100% uniform.  Add remaining beans and lemon juice.  Leave in the Crock Pot until it’s all hot.  Serve with whatever toppings you like, e.g., sour cream, salsa, cilantro, cheese, corn chips.

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